If you’re exploring Santa Barbara with kids, a visit to MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation is a must. This interactive science museum is in a prime location on lower State Street, right next to the train station and minutes from beaches and the pier. You can’t miss the striking museum – a playful take on the city’s mission-style architecture. Its exterior features those classic Santa Barbara white adobe walls, wrought-iron railings and a red tile-roofed tower, but with a wavy profile and giant egg-shaped windows offering a glimpse of all the fun inside.
MOXI, a nonprofit museum, opened in February 2017, making it a relatively new attraction in Santa Barbara. Its exhibits are superbly modern and high-tech – after all, the place is dedicated to science and technology. Yet all the technological marvels are balanced by timeless, uncomplicated elements that further inspire creativity among visitors of all ages. There’s space here for touchscreens as well as paper, for wooden blocks as well as gyroscopic sculptures, and so much more. Visitors are encouraged to ask questions, touch and interact with everything (nothing is hands-off), and embrace trial and error.
Seven permanent exhibits plus the Innovation Workshop cover all the components of play-based STEAM learning, but for kids it all just seems like a lot of fun. Grownup visitors tend to have an excellent time as well. Here’s an overview of all there is to see and do at MOXI, undoubtedly one of the best museums in Santa Barbara.
Permanent Exhibits at MOXI
MOXI’s permanent exhibits are spaced out over three floors including a rooftop deck with gorgeous views across the city. They focus on seven different STEAM themes, but all the spaces are open and seamlessly connected. This format allows kids to happily explore the entire museum, following whatever sight, noise or movement catches their eye.
The first floor features the Sound Track exhibit area, dedicated to sound and music and the science behind it all. The giant guitar, big enough for kids to stand inside, is a highlight. You can twang its rope-like strings, move the enormous capo, and hear all the differences those choices make in its sounds. Kids can create their own sound effects for a movie clip, and make their own music on a futuristic DJ table. Also on the first floor is the Interactive Media Track, offering digital interactive experiences created in collaboration with local artists, scientists and educators, plus a gallery space.
Adjacent to the Sound Track exhibit is the Fantastic Forces Courtyard, a soaring outdoor space where kids can experiment with gravity, magnetism, propulsion and other moving forces. Shoot an air rocket and launch colorful silks into the air, then watch them dance slowly back to the ground. Send a foam ball into a complex network of interconnected clear tubes, and see if you can keep an eye on its swift trajectory before it shoots out across the room. Nearby is the Tech Track exhibit, presenting stories of local innovators and their work in the community. It’s also where you can put your own handprint on the illuminated Family Handprint Globe.
The Light Track exhibit blends visual arts with science and technology. A highlight is a computer program, operated by touchscreen, to create different shapes, color combinations and tessellations that get projected as surprising light patterns on a wall. Take a selfie and see it transformed into a mosaic of tiny images, and control the giant entryway Color Mixing Machine by steering wheel. A giant light-up peg board might remind some older visitors of the Lite Brite game.
One of the most popular interactive exhibits at MOXI is Speed Track, dedicated to the science of movement. Choose from a variety of toy car components, such as different shapes of chassis and wheels, and then launch them up the test track for a race. Change the design of your car and see how it affects its speed. There’s also a marble roller coaster, an entire wall rendered as a giant peg board, with a system of pegs and tracks for custom marble coaster configurations.
Do not miss MOXI’s rooftop Sky Garden, a major highlight of the museum. Along with panoramic views of Santa Barbara’s rooftops, mountains and ocean, it has even more interactive exhibits to explore. Whitewater, an interactive water feature, demonstrates fluid dynamics with a giant Archimedes screw. Play giant instruments as part of the Weather Orchestra, and try out different types of observation scopes at the lookout tower. Another fun feature is the glass Sky Deck, a transparent floor above the courtyard space.
In addition to its permanent and temporary exhibits, MOXI welcomes all visitors to its Innovation Workshop. This comprehensive maker space is a workshop fully stocked with all the arts, crafts, building, engineering and other supplies you could dream of. From paper and popsicle sticks to a 3D printer, it offers a wide range of high-tech, low-tech and no-tech materials to inspire creativity and innovation.
The workshop features a different theme every month. This October’s theme is Monsters Ink, with suggested activities for creepy crafting such as stamp a monster and make a mask.
More about MOXI
Here are some MOXI FAQs:
What are MOXI’s hours?
MOXI is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for holidays and special events.
How much is admission to MOXI?
General admission to MOXI is $18 for adults (13+), $14 for children (3 to 12), and free for children 2 and under. As part of the Museums for All program, MOXI offers reduced admission of $1 per ticket for California EBT cardholders. K-to-12 teachers from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties enjoy free admission. Use the train or bus to reach MOXI and you can get $1 off general admission by presenting your day-of ticket at the front desk.
Is MOXI for everyone?
Yes, all ages are welcome at MOXI. Children 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 or older. The museum offers a regular schedule of special events that might be of interest to some visitors:
- Toddler Tuesdays take place weekly at select morning hours. No field trips are scheduled during these times, so the museum is quieter and more accessible to toddlers.
- Mellow Mornings are sensory-friendly time slots offered monthly during the early morning. These sessions are designed for children and adults with sensory challenges, and feature a range of adjustments to the museum including reduced light and sound throughout.
- Happy Hour at MOXI is a fun event scheduled occasionally for adults to have the museum all to themselves, without those pesky kids hogging everything! It’s exclusively for visitors 21 and older, and beer, wine and soft drinks are available for purchase.
How long does a visit to MOXI take?
MOXI’s three floors comprise 25,000 square feet, making it a mid-sized museum that most visitors enjoy for around 1.5 to 2 hours. Some kids could definitely entertain themselves at the museum for much longer than that, while toddlers might be happy with a shorter visit. You are welcome to stay at MOXI for as long as you desire, within opening hours. You may also leave and re-enter the museum on the same day, as long as you keep your receipt.
Does MOXI have a gift store?
MOXI has an excellent Museum Store with fun STEAM toys, arts and crafts supplies and great
gifts for all ages. Be sure to have a look before you leave the museum.
MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
125 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Looking for more things to do in Santa Barbara? Check out “Places to Play: Santa Barbara Botanical Garden“